SAN FRANCISCO — Superior Court judges in the city of San Francisco can no longer associate with the Boy Scouts in any way. The new policy alarms many Catholics, who say it opens the door to disallowing judges from participation in churches that teach homosexuality is morally wrong.

Members of the court adopted rules July 11 “prohibiting [the court's] members from activities that may give the appearance of bias based on sexual discrimination.” Judges are already banned from associating with groups that discriminate based on race or gender.

According to the policy, the judges are not allowed to be scout-masters, troop leaders or hold a position on any governing board associated with the Boy Scouts or any organization that excludes homosexuals. It was not clear whether any current judges were associated with the Boy Scouts.

At issue is the Scouts' ban on homosexuals that was upheld in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said the organization could define its own principles.

San Francisco Bar Association President Angela Bradstreet, a lesbian and a lawyer at a San Francisco law firm, specifically cited the Boy Scouts as the motivating factor in the judges' policy and promised to try to export San Francisco's policy to municipalities around the country.

“We are now approaching other metropolitan bar associations and local courts to ask them to follow the Superior Court's lead to ensure there is both perception and actuality of equality and impartiality in our court system for everyone,” Bradstreet said in a statement.

According to Edward White, a lawyer with the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice in Ann Arbor, Mich., bias is exactly what has motivated the policy. “They want judges with a particular ideology,” he said.

White said the broad language adopted by the Superior Court could be used to ban anyone belonging to any religion that disavows homosexual behavior. “[This policy could] prevent any candidate who is a member of any orthodox church or the Boy Scouts from serving on the bench,” he said.

In addition, such a ban on association should be totally unnecessary, White said, since “judges take an oath to uphold all the laws of the state of California.” White said judges normally follow the maxim “By our actions we are impartial,” and their association in most groups is immaterial.

“I am amazed that judges would so freely give up their free-association rights,” he said.

The Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in religious liberty and family values cases, has publicly vowed to fight for the rights of judges who do not wish to follow the new policy. It said several judges in other municipalities where the policy is likely to be adopted had already contacted the institute.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said he is certain the policy will be exported to other California cities.

However, Bradstreet said the new rules will not affect a judge's association with religious groups. She said the policy would only apply to organizations that did not allow homosexuals to participate in any way. Since the Catholic Church allows homosexuals and anyone else to pray in its churches, she said, there would be no effect on Catholic adjudicators.

Legal Groups Disagree

Not all legal groups agree with San Francisco's policy. The Arizona Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee released a report in December 2000 that stated members could engage in activities with the Boy Scouts regardless of their policy toward homosexuals.

Boy Scouts spokesman Greg Shields said the Scouts' policy prohibiting homosexuals stands, and said the Scouts will not allow the San Francisco Bar Association or anyone else to stop their work.

“We hope to continue our mission of building young men of character, and we won't let anything get in the way of our mission,” he said.

Shields added that overall, the Scouts are doing very well, with membership increasing over the last year.

“[The negative publicity] has been pretty minor,” he said. “We get a lot of support for what we do.”

Father Jim Maher served for 10 years as the Boy Scout chaplain for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is now chaplain emeritus. Father Maher said he sees the San Francisco policy as “overkill.”

Like the Thomas More Law Center's White, Father Maher worries the San Francisco policy could grow to exclude anyone who is not politically in line with the bar association.

“That's exactly what's going to happen if this is allowed to continue,” Father Maher said.

Father Maher explained that the Scouts' policy on homosexuals is not nearly as radical as Bradstreet claims. He said Catholic scouting troops do allow people with a homosexual orientation to be involved with scouting as long as they are not engaging in homosexual behavior.

“We follow the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality,” he said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states on the topic of homosexuality: “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them [homosexuals] a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (No. 2358).

The Catechism also stresses that homosexuals should be chaste.

It continues: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (No. 2359).

Still Scouting

Catholic layman Tom Serafin was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout for more than 10 years. He later served as a scout instructor. Serafin has only good things to say about the scouts and said he believes the policy in San Francisco misses the point.

“The advantages of exposing boys to other cultures and economic brackets far outweigh the sexual politics of San Francisco,” he said.

“If I had a son, I would not feel comfortable as a parent allowing him in close proximity, on short or extended camping trips with a male who was a practicing homosexual,” he said. “When you are an 8- or 9-year-old Boy Scout, you should not be concerned with sexuality; you should be learning to build character, tie knots and cut logs — that's what the Boy Scouts are all about.

“It's ironic,” he continued, “that some people seem to have learned nothing from the recent scandals in the Catholic Church — is it unreasonable to want to protect our children?”

Andrew Walther writes from Los Angeles.